Turner Embraces New Challenge at UVA
July 18, 2016
CHARLOTTESVILLE — As he prepared to face his alma mater on April 30 in Kennesaw, Ga., it didn’t occur to Kip Turner, then a Brown assistant coach, that he might be wearing University of Virginia colors again a few months later.
“We were just trying to win a lacrosse game,” Turner recalled, “and at that point in our season, we were having such a great year, we just wanted to keep our heads down and keep going to work.”
The Bears’ work paid handsome dividends in a 19-11 victory over the Cavaliers. The next month, in the NCAA tournament, Brown advanced to the Final Four before losing in overtime to Maryland.
The Wahoos’ season — their 24th under head coach Dom Starsia, who won four NCAA championships — ended that night in Kennesaw.
The `Hoos, winless against ACC opponents for the second straight year, finished the regular season with a 7-8 record and so were not eligible for the NCAA tournament. Starsia’s tenure at Virginia ended in late May, and his longtime offensive coordinator, associate head coach Marc Van Arsdale, recently took an assistant’s job at Loyola.
Down years have been rare at UVA. In 2004, when Turner was a freshman, Virginia finished 5-8. But over the next three seasons, the Cavaliers posted a combined record of 40-8, with three trips to the NCAA tournament.
In 2006, Turner was the starting goalie on the team that went 17-0 and captured the NCAA title, and he was an All-American again in 2007.
Like Tiffany, Turner is confident the Cavaliers can rejoin the nation’s elite.
“One hundred percent,” Turner said. “That’s our goal, to win championships: ACC championships, NCAA championships. That’s why at Virginia it’s called Uncompromised Excellence.”
The Cavaliers have not advanced past the NCAA tournament’s round of 16 since 2012, and twice in the past four seasons they’ve finished with a losing record. It’s been difficult, Turner said, for him to see the program decline, knowing the people involved.
“I honestly felt bad for Dom and Coach Van,” Turner said, “because those guys coached me, and I know how great they are as coaches.”
Turner, 31, spent the past six seasons as an assistant coach at Brown, where his boss was Lars Tiffany, who, coincidentally, played for Starsia at the Ivy League school. When Tiffany was introduced as Virginia’s new head coach last month, he made clear that he hoped his assistants, Turner and Sean Kirwan, would follow him from Providence, R.I., to Charlottesville.
“We’ve created a really special bond between the three of us,” Tiffany said.
Tiffany’s wish was fulfilled. Virginia announced last week that Turner and Kirwan had been hired as assistant coaches. Turner will work with UVA’s goalies and faceoff specialists, and Kirwan will coordinate its offense.
The new staff plans to implement Brown’s up-tempo, aggressive style of play — one Kirwan learned at his alma mater, Division III power Tufts. In 2015, the Bears’ first season with Kirwan as their offensive coordinator, they averaged 13.9 goals per game. In 2016, Brown led the nation in scoring (16.3 goals per game).
As a boy growing up in LaFayette, N.Y., outside Syracuse, Tiffany played lacrosse with Native Americans from the Onondaga Nation, and he’s long wanted the teams he coached to play in such a free-flowing fashion.
The Native American game is not one “where you slow the ball down,” Tiffany said. “That’s not a game where you’re patient. It’s aggressive. There’s a warrior mentality. And that’s the style that we played at Brown, and that’s the style we’re going to play here at the University of Virginia: an aggressive, uptempo and expressive form of lacrosse, and not too evaluative, where we’re just critiquing every little thing.”
Turner said: “It’s a style where if you nit-pick mistakes, guys aren’t going to be happy. We’re not going to nit-pick all the mistakes. If you throw the ball away, we know you’re going to get the next one.”
That full-speed-ahead approach is similar to the one Starsia and Van Arsdale employed with great success for most of Turner’s playing career at UVA. In 2006, the Cavaliers averaged 15.8 goals per game.
“The goalie is in some ways the most important part of this, because he’s got to get the ball up and down,” Tiffany said. “I’ve watched Kip Turner throw outlet passes from his knees in the college and pro games. He just gets it out however possible. But you also have to have a really mentally tough goalie, because if we’re being aggressive, we’re not back at home protecting the fort. Our goalies are going to see what the other team thinks are really good looks. And so he’s got to be mentally strong, because he’s going to see some tough shots right on top of him.
“Kip was that goalie. We were fortunate these past couple years at Brown to have that goalie in Jack Kelly. And so this is a system that’s inherent to who Kip is, and it’s inherent to who I am. But certainly with Sean Kirwan bringing that invaluable experience [from Tufts], there was less of a learning curve for us.”
Turner, who’s from Annapolis, Md., was a three-year starter for UVA. He then played nine seasons in Major League Lacrosse, where he continued to excel in the goal.
To succeed in Tiffany’s system, Turner said, “You have to be a great outlet goalie, you have to be athletic, you have to be smart with the ball … You might face some more shots. You definitely have to be good in tight situations, because there might be a couple coming at you.”
Kelly, one of Turner’s pupils at Brown, was named a first-team All-American this season. The Bears’ top faceoff specialist, Will Gural, who won 69.9 percent of his draws, was a second-team All-American.
At UVA, rising senior Matt Barrett, who was a second-team All-American in 2015, has started 46 consecutive games in the cage. Faceoff specialist Jason Murphy also returns for the `Hoos. A rising junior who missed the Brown game with an injury, Murphy won 62.4 percent of his faceoffs this season.
Turner said he’s not especially familiar with the Cavaliers’ returning goalies and faceoff specialists. His personnel decisions at those positions will be based on what he believes is “going to benefit Virginia lacrosse down the road,” Turner said.
“It might be the former starter, and it might not. It depends. I want certain things, and if certain guys provide me certain things, then we’re going to be good. And if certain guys don’t, then we’re not going to be good.”
Turner graduated from UVA in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in government. His coaching career began in October 2010, when he joined Tiffany’s staff at Brown.
“I called Lars up and said, `Any time you need a goalie coach, let me know,’ ” Turner recalled. “And that was sort of it. It started that way.”
They knew each other from Tiffany’s days as an assistant at Penn State. Tiffany had tried unsuccessfully to lure Turner, a coveted recruit from Severn School near Annapolis, to State College, Pa.
“I actually took a lot less [scholarship] money to go with Dom than to Penn State with Lars,” Turner said, laughing.
He knew little about the art of taking faceoffs before getting the Brown job. That didn’t faze Turner, who quickly became proficient in that aspect of his job.
“For me, it’s all about the individual,” Turner said. “It’s similar to goalie in that it’s an individualistic position in a lot of ways. It’s really just one-on-one teaching. And if you can watch enough film, you can learn. If you can talk to enough people, you can learn more. And then you translate that to working with individuals and gaining their trust, and you tell them the right things and then you hope they listen. And then the kids obviously need to do the job on the field and work hard.”